ARAD, Israel - Sitting in front of a Holocaust survivor meeting face-to-face with Christ crucified in Rick Wienecke's sculpture series "Fountain of Tears" is disquieting.
The sculptures are life-size, and this colossal stone and bronze monument invites solemn contemplation. View images of the sculptures here.
The crucifix is never an easy sight for Jewish eyes. Jews are vexed by the depiction of a crucified Messiah, which has more often than not symbolized the source of their own sufferings.
For Christians the sign of the cross is venerated. The once shameful image of the crucifixion became the central and distinguishing symbol for the new covenant faith. While other religions celebrated the power and majesty of their gods, the Church focused on the human vulnerability and suffering of the Son of Man. Alone among the world's religions, Christianity defiantly displayed the wasted and twisted body of a suffering Savior as its central theme.
But symbolic and pictorial arts for worship were never as necessary for the Jews as for the Christian world. In Church history, paintings, sculpture, and frescoes were the main way that the Bible story was told to the mostly illiterate public. These served as the Biblia pauperum, or Bible of the poor. For the Jews, however, with a high level of literacy due to their well-developed system of education and familiarity with the biblical story, this was not necessary.
When dynasties like Babylon, Greece, and Rome tried to impose their graven images on the Jews, they resisted, often unto death. During the Common Era, Christians worshipping before images of the crucifixion and the cross looked to the Jews like another idolatrous, anti-Jewish superstition.
So the Jews became the classic iconoclasts, destroying images set up for religious veneration and tearing down beliefs in God that were based on error or superstition. The Pentateuch itself prohibits in sternest terms the making of any image or likeness of man or beast for purposes of worship (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:8; Deut. 4:16-18).
Wienecke's attempt to find meaning in the crucifixion in its relationship to the Holocaust is a journey that all true believers must eventually take. No true Christian can avoid walking through the shadows of the valley of death that have darkened the paths of Jews in their search for faith, hope, and God's love.
Every faith provides a set of ideas and images with which the faithful might respond to circumstances that challenge belief. Many have tried to interpret Jewish suffering in Christian terms. Perhaps it is unavoidable. Given the long history of Christianity blaming the Jews as tormenters of their Savior rather than as "brothers" who shared his fate, looking for Jesus among the murdered masses of the Holocaust is admirable.
Some Christians have even spoken of the murder of the six million as a kind of crucifixion. Jewish suffering becomes, in a mystical way, the suffering body of Christ.
In 1979, when Karol Wojtyla came home to Krakow as Pope John Paul II, he called Auschwitz the "Golgotha of the modern world." Such spiritualizing, while commendable, eventually only eliminates anything Jewish from the very place where Jews were themselves eliminated.
If Jesus had been in Auschwitz, he would have died a nameless victim with a number on his arm.
The Fountain of Tears begs us to search outside the traditional theological boundaries in search of a Christian response to the Holocaust. In this massive work, which took Wienecke seven years to complete, the Jewish Messiah is not found among his suffering people as in the typical portrayals of Christ in the Holocaust.
Wienecke portrays the Christ figure neither comforting nor in an act of identification or even intercession with the brutalized Jews. Rather, he portrays them face to face. Two Jews, one a Savior whose sufferings became the source of hope and inspiration for millions, the other a survivor left only with grief.
What possible communications can there be between them?
"This is a dialogue of suffering between the Holocaust and the Crucifixion," Wienecke says. "It is based on the last seven words of Christ on the cross," he explains. "But it is not a Christian monologue, it is a two-way conversation."
This work is a serious reflection on the relationship between the Jewish Messiah and the Holocaust Jew. While challenging our traditional thinking on the subject, Wienecke's piece inspires prayer that the two might find some point of contact.
The next time you are in Israel you can visit the Fountain of Tears, which is now on exhibition in the Negev desert town of Arad.
To arrange a visit, go to Casting Seeds, which also provides pictures and a video of the Fountain of Tears, as well as some of Wienecke's other works.